Toby Keith Returns with New Music! Country Star Drops First Album in 5 Years, 'Peso In My Pocket'

"It was a great time for me to write," he tells PEOPLE about writing during the pandemic

Chances are that you will never find Toby Keith on a treadmill. The country singer isn't particularly fond of stair climbers either. But give him an open road on a nice day, and he sure as heck is going to go for a run.

"I used to run a lot further, but I don't need to anymore," Keith, 60, tells PEOPLE with a laugh. "I'm getting too old. There were times when I'd run five days a week, about three miles. And then, my hips would start bothering me. But I still try to get my three miles in.

He adds, "I just cannot stay in one place. I got to get out and be moving down the road."

It was during those runs that Keith found himself coming up with song ideas for his new album, Peso in my Pocket.

"I'd look at the song ideas I had in my phone before I started running, and then I would take off," he says. "Next thing I know, my time would be up, and I'd have been constantly working, grinding gears in my head about the songs. I'd get back and put on my recorder on my phone and I would lay down what I got."

"It was a great time for me to write," he adds.

toby keith
Richard McLaren

Of course, Keith had plenty of time to take ideas from his head into the studio, as it has been five years since Keith came out with new music. And as everyone knows, the world changed greatly during those five years.

"I was actually in Cabo, [Mexico] at my house down there when it all hit," Keith says of the pandemic. "I knew immediately that I would be better off in sunshine banging a golf ball around and eating out on an open-air patio than I would be trying to get home. So, we just stayed there."

In fact, he ended up staying there for five months last year before calls started coming in from radio honchos who seemed to have a craving for some new Toby Keith music, a request that left him to just shake his head.

"I couldn't have been happier with the way the last album turned out," says Keith, referring to 2015's release of 35 MPH Town. "But we could hardly get it played anywhere."

RELATED VIDEO: Keith Urban on the Effect Johnny Cash Had on His Dad Which Inspired His New Song Wild Hearts

Indeed, Keith still remembers feeling lost within the genre that he had made a career within via chart-toppers such as "American Soldier," "As Good as I Once Was," and "Made in America."

"It had to have been 2011 or somewhere in there, and it was just as if everyone shut the door and said, 'There's going to be no gradual changing of the guard anymore…we're going to cut this off and we're only gonna play this going forward,'" he says. "And what they started playing didn't sound like what we did."

Heck, Keith even recalls a time that he showed up at an industry awards show… and knew no one.

"I remember when 'Red Solo Cup' was hitting big, and the backstage area was filled with people like Brooks & Dunn and Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill) and Kenny (Chesney,)" Keith remembers. "Five years later, I walked through that same backstage and I didn't know anybody. I didn't recognize anyone."

That is until he saw Keith Urban. "I said to him, 'you're the only person I know here,'" Keith remembers. "And he goes, 'I know... it's crazy."

toby keith
Richard McLaren

Nevertheless, in 2020, Keith found himself drawn to the idea of putting new music out, no matter if it sounded like what is out there at the moment or not. And in doing so, Keith has successfully brought his brand of hard-nosed country music back to the forefront with the help of co-writers such as Ryan Hurd, Maren Morris, and Sammy Hagar. Further proving it was the right idea is the fact that the lead single off the album, "Old School" now serves as Keith's highest Billboard/Country Airplay chart debut of his career.

But don't think he didn't think about not releasing this album.

"I started getting very comfortable with just going and playing shows," says Keith, who is currently out on his Country Comes to Town Tour. "I have a tremendous following. We haven't been struggling like other strong acts. I'm selling as much merchandise as I did in 2005. And the fact is that our seniors are passing away a little at a time, so if somebody wants to hear this kind of music live and they can't go see Charlie Daniels now and you can't see Merle Haggard now, you sort of step in that role you know?"

He grows quiet. "If you want to hear something you listened to growing up and you're not fond of whatever else is out there, I feel like I am there to fill the void," he adds.

Peso in My Pocket is out now.

Related Articles